Golden Era Candidates Part 1: Minnie Minoso

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Veterans Committee Golden Era (1947-1972) Part 1: Minnie Minoso

by Dennis Keith Orlandini


Arguments supporting Minnie Minoso’s Hall Of Fame election usually begin with the fact that his debut in the major leagues was delayed considerably by the racial barrier or by the fact that Minoso was a pioneer blazing a trail for Latinos of Color. (He was the first Black Latino to reach the majors (1949) and the first in that category to become an all-star (1951).

Supporters will also point out that Minoso made the American league all-star team in 7 of his first 10 full seasons and that most of his accomplishments occurred in his 30s, due to racism delaying and shorting his  major league career.

Now you can add to those suppositions of how great Minoso could have been if the major leagues had been open to him at age 20 comes a new generation of baseball metrics that ranks Minoso somewhere between the second and fourth best overall offensive performer in the American league during his 11 year long career peak (1951-1961). His numbers also rank on a par with many already inducted Hall Of Famers, a strong indication that he belongs in Cooperstown.   

Will the December 8 Veterans Committee Golden Era (1947-1972) election results bring the good news that Minoso has so longed hoped to hear?  Although that’s unknowable if there’s any justice in this world Minnie’s election would be assured.

Minoso will turn 89 shortly before the election (some accounts say he will be as old as 92). Until recently he was doing 150 situps a day, (according to Chicago

Magazine) which is consistent with the fact that he was one of the best conditioned players of the 1950s. Minoso may have determined that he will simply outlast those who oppose his HOF election.  He may be going to Heaven some day, but not until he goes to Cooperstown first!


Early Days, Negro leagues and The Long Apprenticeship


Minoso was born in rural Cuba sometime between 1922 and 1925, depending on what version you choose to believe. By the early 1940s he was one of the best ballplayers in Cuba, often competing and succeeding against opposition players who were much older than him. He was brought to America by HOF owner Alex Pompez to play for the New York Cubans late in the 1945 Negro Leagues season.  This team booked home games wherever there was availability in the splendor of Yankee Stadium or The Polo Grounds or in little Oval Park in East Orange, NJ.

Minnie started to really turn some heads with his play in his first full season of
1946. In 1947 he was the catalyst at the top of the lineup for the NY Cubans team that won the Negro Leagues World Series over the Cleveland Buckeyes. He was primarily a third baseman then. Minoso was selected to play in the 1947 and 1948 East-West Negro Leagues all-star games as his reputation for talent and hustle rapidly grew. With the racial barrier falling a little bit at a time he eventually attracted attention from major league teams and the Cleveland Indians signed him to a minor league contract shortly after the 1948 negro leagues all-star game.  (Minoso was convinced that he could have helped that 1948 Indians team to the pennant and World Series and didn’t need any “seasoning” in the minors.

Unfortunately, he got stuck in a “baseball limbo”.  Indians General manager, Hank Greenberg never fully appreciated Minoso’s talents. Except for a cup of coffee with the Indians at the start of the 1949 season, he spent all of 1949 and 1950 with San Diego of the AAA Pacific Coast league.

In addition, the American league was very slow to integrate (the NY Yankees didn’t have a black player until 1955, the Red Sox had no black players until 1959). There may have been a quota system and the Indians were set with Lary Doby and Satchel Paige

Minoso finally made the Indians’ opening day roster in 1951, but as a utility player.  Two weeks into the season he was sent packing to the Chicago White Sox in a three-team deal that also included the Philadelphia Athletics.

Manager Paul Richards inserted Minnie into the lineup on May 1 and Minoso had two hits, including a homer in his first game. Afterwards, Minoso just kept hitting. By July 1 he had been selected to the American league’s all-star team and he would finish in second place in in the league in batting average. He led the league in Triples and Stolen Bases, a power and speed combination so rare that it took a half-century for any major leaguer to duplicate that feat (Jimmy Rollins, Philadelphia, National Lg.)

Minoso had arrived. By the end of 1951 he was a full-fledged star... and all he
had needed to prove he as an elite player was the chance the White sox gave him.

Stardom: 1951-1961

Minoso had the daunting task of being the standard bearer for two minorities. He was the first black latino and one of the first blacks in the major leagues - period.  He faced plenty of racism in the early 1950s, particularly on the road. His upbeat personality, athletic skills and above all hustle eventually won over all but the most bigoted fans. He was Charlie Hustle before Pete Rose coined that nickname.

After a short time at third base he’s been converted to a left fielder, a position of the most need for Chicago. He became an outstanding outfielder, definitely some one opposing base runners seldom tried to take an extra base on and with the establishment of the Gold Glove Award in 1957, Minoso won three late career Gold Gloves. He was consistently in the top five or top ten in most major offensive categories and good defensively also. Minoso simply did everything well on a baseball field.

To black fans in Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic he was the Jackie Robinson of Latin America and The Caribbean.  He gave inspiration to upcoming ball players like Orlando Cepeda, Tony Perez, Tony Taylor and Juan Marichal.  Reaching and succeeding in the major leagues was now possible for  black latinos thanks to Minoso.  While casual fans probably think that Roberto Clemente was the first superstar of color from Latin America, it’s a fact that Minoso had played on four American League All-Star teams (1951-1954) before Clemente ever faced his first major league pitcher.

Hall Of Famer, Orlando Cepeda has said, “Orestes Minnie Minoso was the Jackie Robinson for all Latinos - the first star who opened the door. He was everybody’s hero. I wanted to be Minoso.  Even Clemente wanted to be Minoso”.

(More on Minoso’s offensive prowess later in this article).


The Ill-Fated 1962 Season

Minnie was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals before the 1962 season.  This was potentially a good move.  It would give Minnie a chance to play with some old veterans such as Stan Musial, Red Schoendienst, Ken Boyer, Curt Simmons, Curt Flood, Dick Groat and the up and coming youngsters like Bob Gibson and Tim McCarver.  The Cardinals were always contenders, so this might be a chance to steal a pennant.  It proved to be Minnie’s worst season and the start of the downturn of his career.  In mid-May Minoso was severely injured as he crashed into an outfield wall while trying to make a catch. He suffered a concussion and hand and head injuries. He missed two months then returned for about four weeks, but was unable to recuperate fully and didn’t play that year after mid-August. With time lost to the injury he missed his chance to reach 2,000 hits and pad his other offensive career stats. Normally logging over 550 at bats per season, injuries limited Minoso to a paltry 97 at-bats in 1962. He played sparingly in 1963 and 1964 and then took a chance to be a player-manager in the Mexican Leagues, remained there for eight years, where he was much beloved and was elected to the Mexican Leagues Hall Of Fame.


Comebacks and Hall Of Fame rules:

Minnie came back for brief stints with the White Sox in 1976 & 1980.  These cameo appearences were publicity stunts that helped sell tickets. Technically he became MLB’s only five decade player, but he couldn’t have possibly have known the negative effect this would have had on his Hall of Fame chances.  Each time he came back to the majors the Hall of Fame, stringently applying it’s rules, set the clock back on his HOF eligibility. The outcome was that now Minoso was on a HOF ballot in the 1990’s being judged by most writers who were too young to have ever seen him play.

His candidacy was set to advance to the Veterans Committee in 2002.  There he would be judged by senior writers, executives, broadcasters and baseball historians.  In a small committee like that his candidacy had a fair chance of succeeding. After the 2001 inauguration the HOF changed its rules for Veterans Committee candidates. (Bill Mazeroski was the last Vets. committee candidate elected under the old rules.

The vote was turned over to an 80 plus man electorate made up largely of living Hall of Fame players. It turned out that these HOFers jealously guarded their HOF status.  It was their private club and they weren’t accepting any new members.  In four elections under this system 2003, 2005, 2007 and 2009 not one Veterans Committee candidate was elected.  The Hall of Fame realizing that the system was broken has since gone back to a 16 member committee and stripped that large body of living Hall Of Famers of their vote.


Other Obstacles:

The difficulties of Split Career HOF election

Evaluating the careers of players whose careers were split between the Negro leagues and the major leagues has historically proved difficult. The dual career can cloud the issue and is inherently a challenge, particularly since Negro league statistics can at best only be labeled as approximate numbers as conscientious record-keeping was sometimes lacking. With the exception of the ultimate trailblazer, Jackie Robinson, most players who starred in both the negro and major leagues and who reached the HOF did so with considerable delay.  (Monte Irvin was elected in 1973 - 17 years after his retirement and Larry Doby - elected in 1998 was elected 39 years after his retirement).

Negro leagues special election of February 2006

Minoso was among 39 final candidates up for a Special Hall of Fame election for negro leaguers in the winter of 2006. Although he and Buck O’Neil were the only living candidates and having their reminiscences of their negro league days was the type of a Oral History story that should have been told, neither Minoso or O’Neil was elected.  O’Neil’s rejection was quite puzzling and it’s rumored that he missed being elected by only one vote. Minoso’s case was different.  Too many voters on the 16 member committee viewed him as a major leaguer and would not give him their vote for just over three years’ service in the negro leagues.  They could have elected Minoso BASED ON HIS OVERALL CONTRIBUTION TO THE SPORT IN CUBA, THE NEGRO LEAGUES,

MAJOR LEAGUES AND IN MEXICO but narrow-mindedly limited their concerns to his negro leagues career and due to the brevity of that career in the negro leagues rejected him.  Minoso had some support from Latinos on the committee and some baseball historians - but not enough.


Both Raw and Advanced Statistics Support Minoso’s Hall Of Fame Election


Overall Minnie Minoso must rank no lower than fourth among 1950s American league offensive performers.  For his peak years he has few peers.

Minnie Minoso For the period 1951-1961 and his ranking among American League players:

Outfield Assists: ranked #1 for this time period among all American leaguers.

Hit By pitch: Minoso ranked #1 with 178 HBP- led the A.L. 10 out of 11 years.

Total Bases: 2879 rank #2 (leader: Mickey Mantle).

Hits: 1861 - rank #2 - (leader: Nellie Fox).

Runs Scored: 1078 - rank #2 (leader mantle).

Extra Base Hits: 579 - rank #2-(leader: Mantle).

Times On Base: 2806 - rank #2 (leader mantle)

Batting Average .305 - rank 5th (leader Ted Williams)

On Base Percentage:  .395 - rank: 4th (leader - Ted Williams).

Triples: rank 2nd (Leader: N. Fox)

Stolen Bases: rank 2nd (leader; Luis Aparicio)

Runs Created: 1145 - rank 2nd (leader: Mantle)

Wins Above Replacement (WAR) - rank 2nd (leader; Mantle)

Win probability: Minoso ranks 3rd (behind mantle & Williams)

Power-Speed Number: 2nd - Minoso loses #1 rank to mantle in a very close call.

Win shares (1947-1972):  rank: 9th. Every player in the top 13 is in the HOF except Minoso.

OPS: on base plus slugging - ranked in the top 10 eight times in a 10 year period.

Slugging percentage: Even in a Mickey Mantle-dominated era Minoso manged to lead the American league in Slugging percentage one year (1954).

Minoso ranks far above the average Hall of Famer in:

Hits after the age of 25

Hits after the age of 28 - and of course you have to ask yourself what final numbers he would have finished with if the racial barrier hadn’t prevented him from reaching the major leagues at a much earlier age.

The Grey Ink Test: finishing in the top 10 in major offensive categories. He’s done that more often than most hall of Famers.

Stats guru, Bill James ranks Minoso as the 10th greatest left fielder of all-time,
ranking him higher than 12 Hall of Fame leftfielders.

Notinhalloffame ranked Minoso as 26th among those not yet in the hall of

Fame, but actually he ranks 2nd among those who are eligible for this year’s Golden Era election.

The MLB Network did a program on the same topic and picked it’s top 40 who were not yet in the Hall of Fame. In that program Minoso ranked 4th on that list and he ranked #1 among players whose candidacy had advanced to the Veterans Committee.

There is a growing feeling that the Hall Of Fame roster of 1950s stars will not be complete until Minnie and the late Gil Hodges are elected.


LEGACY


Minoso’s success helped quicken the American league’s integration. Many  American League club owners dragged their feet on integration when compared to the National League. Minoso, however, was so exciting a player, likeable, and a fan favorite that “the great experiment of integration’ began to flourish instead of dying out in the A.L.

Baseball historian Adrian Burgos claims that Minnie Minoso was the key figure in the “Latinization” of major league baseball.  About One-third of today’s major

leaguers are Latinos and many of them are black or of mixed race heritage. Several generations of Latinos of color have followed Minnie Minoso to the major leagues.  Before 1949 there were zero major league players in that category. It took one man, Orestes, Saturnino ‘Minnie’ Minoso to knock down that barrier and to open the floodgates.  If Minoso is not elected in next month’s election then shame on those committee members who failed to do their homework or failed to appreciate Minoso as an ethnic and racial trailblazer.  It’s an ironic twist of fate that a number of Latinos of color who grew up following Minnie’s baseball exploits and derived inspiration and impetus from Minoso’s success have reached Hall Of Fame status while Minnie still hasn’t received recognition of being among the game’s all-time greats from Cooperstown. In December, hopefully that will change.


We here at Notinhalloffame would like to thank Dennis Keith Orlandini for his valuable contribution to our website, and we officially welcome him aboard!


Last modified on Thursday, 19 March 2015 18:47

Comments   

0 #2 Committee Chairman 2014-11-18 07:10
Agreed. A lot of insight given here, looking at a racial issue that is never discussed in any other article about Minoso.
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+1 #1 phil silverman CA 2014-11-13 00:41
this is one important article. a keeper. beautifully written.
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